OTD Degree

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Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Curriculum Design Overview

The scope of the curriculum is guided by the philosophical base of the profession and program. The following factors also influence the selection of courses and areas of emphasis within the curriculum: Standards set forth by the Accreditation Council on Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., (AOTA); mission and goals set forth by the institution and school; issues prevalent in occupational therapy literature and at professional meetings; trends in local and regional needs for traditional, non-traditional and emerging service delivery; opinions from educational and occupational therapy experts through both formal and informal consultation.  

Based on these factors, four core elements of competence for the doctorally prepared entry-level occupational therapist were identified and incorporated as guiding threads in our curriculum:

  • Holistic client centered care
  • Occupational performance across the lifespan, infancy to end of life  
  • Professionalism, leadership and service
  • Evidence-based practice and scholarship  

Notably, these four guiding threads provide a fitting acronym of HOPE which has been adopted by our department as a unique method to express the overarching principle for occupational therapy and occupational therapy education. These threads are evident in the basic elements of the curriculum design such as course titles/descriptions and student learning objectives. 

In the illustration, our curriculum design is expressed through the metaphor of the phases of a mountain climbing journey (i.e., Trek In, Base Camp, Acclimatization, Summit Bid). It is believed this graphic communicates the active and rewarding, yet rigorous, experience of our Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Program. It also previews the scope of the program through identifying the course sequence, course names, learning expectations, and the general interactive nature of the program.

The OTD curriculum includes 123 hours of thoughtfully organized occupational therapy courses over a three year time span. As illustrated, the curriculum requires the students to “trek in” by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in addition to targeted prerequisites necessary for further specific study in our occupational therapy program. Reminiscent of our philosophical underpinnings from adult learning theory principles, the Trek-In Phase of our curriculum acknowledges the unique attributes of the individual’s growing self-concept, reservoir of life experiences, and readiness to learn.      

Upon entry into the OTD program, first-year students complete 46 hours of credit which focus largely on foundational principles along with pediatric content, including a level I pediatric fieldwork. This first year has been dubbed the Base Camp Phase, where students establish the necessary academic skills, knowledge, and endurance to be successful throughout the remainder of the curriculum. The intense nature of the curriculum is unique to what most entering students have previously experienced, and the plan of study for the first year continually stretches the student’s perseverance and focus.

The second year of the curriculum is considered the Acclimatization Phase. This is the time students begin to truly acclimate as aspiring occupational therapy professionals. A level of mental flexibility is required beyond that experienced in the Base Camp year. Students are exposed to more complex information along with more sophisticated learning experiences and increased expectations. This includes the strategic integration of two additional level I fieldwork courses to complement didactic learning of physical dysfunction and psychosocial content. Through small faculty-led student groups, learners are also afforded the opportunity to design, implement, and disseminate a scholarly project. These projects incorporate curricular threads (i.e., H.O.P.E. topics) that support the scholarship agenda of the department. Completion of year two of the program (i.e., 43 hours) provides students with the remainder of the professional concepts and treatment applications necessary to embark on the final year of the curriculum which is primarily full-time clinical participation.

The final phase of the program is labeled the Summit Bid (i.e., 34 hours of predominantly experiential learning). Whereas students have delved deeply into the knowledge and conceptual base of occupational therapy during the previous six semesters through intense didactic study, the third year of the program offers the opportunity to test, refine, and consolidate skills through performance in real world environments. The two 12-week fieldwork experiences are designed to establish entry-level competence as an occupational therapy clinician. Immediately following the fieldwork courses, students immerse themselves in a time-intensive final didactic preparatory course (i.e., capstone seminar) for the capstone experience. Upon passing a comprehensive competency exam, students progress into the last semester of the program. This semester consists of a unique 14-week capstone experience that provides the opportunity for advanced skill development in a specialty area for occupational therapy. The program concludes with a final on-campus course that affords students the opportunity to disseminate a capstone project portfolio illustrating a comprehensive synthesis of knowledge gained throughout the curriculum, including a successful capstone project.  

Through this sequential and intentional curricular climb, the student comes to understand and value their own potential as a doctorally prepared entry-level occupational therapist and a lifelong learner. 

The OTD program’s student learning outcomes are closely connected to the four curriculum threads (e.g. HOPE) integrated throughout the three years of study. The learning outcomes were deliberately crafted to complement our overall program goals and program evaluation strategies which inform the faculty on programmatic successes as well as areas in which appropriate modifications need to be implemented.